July 20, 2005

Ecumenism IV

[Please note: The following are personal musings and not to be construed as *the* Orthodox understanding. If anything here contradicts the received teaching and way of life of the (Orthodox) Church, please correct me. As always: check with your priest or spiritual father.]

Why "Toleration, Mutual Respect and Cooperation" Do Not Make Christian Unity

In the first post, one of the definitions of unity within ecumenism shied away from organic unity and spoke instead of a “unity” promoting “toleration, mutual respect and cooperation.” This “unity” is fostered “between Christian churches and denominations, or between Christianity and other faiths.” This, itself, should provide a clue as to why tolerance, mutual respect and cooperation is no basis for unity, nor is it, itself, the sort of unity Christ prayed for (cf. John 17).

First of all, Scripture is clear. It is not “toleration, mutual respect and cooperation” which create, or, frankly, even foster unity. Rather, Scripture is clear:

The cup of blessing which we bless, is it not the communion of the blood of Christ? The bread which we break, is it not the communion of the body of Christ? Because we, though many, are one bread and one body; for we all partake from the one bread. (1Co 10:16-17)

That is to say, the Holy Eucharist effects our unity in Christ. It is utterly a Trinitarian act: the Father is invoked, the Spirit comes upon “us and these gifts,” and communicants participate in the Body and Blood of the Son.

This unity in the Eucharist is reiterated by St. Ignatios of Antioch.

Take ye heed, then, to have but one Eucharist. For there is one flesh of our Lord Jesus Christ, and one cup to [show forth] the unity of His blood; one altar; as there is one bishop, along with the presbytery and deacons, my fellow-servants: that so, whatsoever ye do, ye may do it according to [the will of] God. (To the Philadelphians 4 [emphasis added])

Note, importantly, the intimate connection between bishop and Eucharist.

If Jesus Christ shall graciously permit me through your prayers, and if it be His will, I shall, in a second little work which I will write to you, make further manifest to you [the nature of] the dispensation of which I have begun [to treat], with respect to the new man, Jesus Christ, in His faith and in His love, in His suffering and in His resurrection. Especially [will I do this] if the Lord make known to me that ye come together man by man in common through grace, individually, in one faith, and in Jesus Christ, who was of the seed of David according to the flesh, being both the Son of man and the Son of God, so that ye obey the bishop and the presbytery with an undivided mind, breaking one and the same bread, which is the medicine of immortality, and the antidote to prevent us from dying, but [which causes] that we should live for ever in Jesus Christ. (To the Ephesians 20 [emphasis added])

In fact, schism over the Eucharist is Church schism.

They [who deny the Incarnation] abstain from the Eucharist and from prayer, because they confess not the Eucharist to be the flesh of our Saviour Jesus Christ, which suffered for our sins, and which the Father, of His goodness, raised up again. Those, therefore, who speak against this gift of God, incur death in the midst of their disputes. But it were better for them to treat it with respect, that they also might rise again. It is fitting, therefore, that ye should keep aloof from such persons, and not to speak of them either in private or in public, but to give heed to the prophets, and above all, to the Gospel, in which the passion [of Christ] has been revealed to us, and the resurrection has been fully proved. But avoid all divisions, as the beginning of evils.

See that ye all follow the bishop, even as Jesus Christ does the Father, and the presbytery as ye would the apostles; and reverence the deacons, as being the institution of God. Let no man do anything connected with the Church without the bishop. Let that be deemed a proper Eucharist, which is [administered] either by the bishop, or by one to whom he has entrusted it. Wherever the bishop shall appear, there let the multitude [of the people] also be; even as, wherever Jesus Christ is, there is the Catholic Church. It is not lawful without the bishop either to baptize or to celebrate a love-feast; but whatsoever he shall approve of, that is also pleasing to God, so that everything that is done may be secure and valid. (To the Smyrnaeans 7-8 [emphasis added])

In other words, all the “toleration, mutual respect and cooperation” in the world will not be able to accomplish what the Holy Trinity accomplishes in the Eucharist. It is the Eucharist, presided over by the bishop, that is the center of our unity. Where there is schism over the Eucharist, no amount of agreed statements, handshakes, or declarations can bring about that unity that is sought.

If the schisms of the Church are to be healed, they will be healed in the Holy Eucharist. There is only one Eucharist that is truly the Lord's Eucharist. And it is there that we all must be reconciled and united.

[This is another in a handful of reflections I want to make on the matter of Church unity.

[This is another in a handful of reflections I want to make on the matter of Church unity.

Previous posts:
Ecumenism I
Ecumenism II
Ecumenism III]

Posted by Clifton at July 20, 2005 03:09 PM | TrackBack
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